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We Need More College Students and Young Adults Vaccinated

Marybeth Bock, MPH


As we near the July 4th weekend, when our country had the public health goal of having 70% of all American adults vaccinated with an initial dose, it’s become apparent that we won’t reach that goal because of certain groups with low vaccination rates.

One of these groups are adults ages 18–39, with particularly low vaccination rates among people 24 and younger.

After over two months of being eligible to receive Covid-19 vaccines, what’s holding back so many young adults from getting them?

Top Reasons for Vaccine Hesitancy Among Young People

Prior to the Delta variant, which is expected to soon be the dominant strain circulating worldwide, young people were not getting very sick if they did get infected with Covid-19. Many of them haven’t felt the urgent need to get vaccinated, unlike older Americans who have suffered with more severe symptoms, hospitalizations and deaths.

We all remember what it was like to be a late teen or early 20-something — most of us felt immortal and immune to serious health risks. Many young adults right now have had or have witnessed friends get Covid and deal with it like it was a cold or minor flu. Health officials haven’t spent a lot of time or resources targeting young adults with vaccine messaging.

But those statistics are expected to change with the Delta variant, the fastest and fittest coronavirus strain yet. According to Dr. Mike Ryan, executive director of the WHO’s Health Emergencies program, it has the potential “to be more lethal because it’s more efficient in the way it transmits between humans and it will eventually find those vulnerable individuals who will become severely ill, have to be hospitalized and potentially die.”

Secondly, some young people, especially women, have concerns about the vaccine’s possible effect on their reproductive health. If this is a concern for a young woman you know, it’s important to have them speak with their healthcare provider. Based on all the evidence to date, when it comes to fertility and pregnancy, “there are no known safety concerns with the vaccines,” says Dr. Sigal Klipstein, a reproductive endocrinologist and member of the American Society for Reproductive Medicine Covid-19 Task Force.

In fact, it’s recommended that young women get vaccinated before considering getting pregnant. Dr. Klipstein adds that “women who contract Covid during pregnancy are at increased risk for more severe disease compared to women who get Covid when they are not pregnant.”

However, there have been rare but real vaccine side effects for some young people. Blood clots in females and mild heart inflammation problems in mostly males have been seen in an exceedingly small number of young adults. Yet the benefits of vaccination still far outweigh the risks of illness and death related to Covid.

Covid-19 itself may cause heart problems in young adults, as seen in a study of collegiate athletes who had recovered from Covid. Federal health officials have all agreed that vaccination benefits continue to outweigh any health risks and vaccines are so far protectant against variants.

There are also young adults who remain nervous about what ingredients are in Covid vaccines, or skeptical that they were “rushed” to be manufactured without all the necessary steps for approval. There is plenty of misinformation out there, especially on social media, where a lot of teens and young adults get their news.

If you have a “wait and see” young adult in your family, please help them seek out evidence-based information on vaccines. The CDC has useful and easy-to understand data on their Myths and Facts About Covid-19 Vaccines page.

It’s also helpful for young adults who may not have any knowledge about vaccine safety standards to know that “researchers have been studying and working with mRNA vaccines for decades. Interest has grown in these vaccines because they can be developed in a laboratory using readily available materials. This means the process can be standardized and scaled up, making vaccine development faster than traditional methods of making vaccines.”

As the CDC points out, “mRNA vaccines have been studied before for flu, Zika, rabies, and cytomegalovirus (CMV). As soon as the necessary information about the virus that causes COVID-19 was available, scientists began designing the mRNA instructions for cells to build the unique spike protein into an mRNA vaccine.”

College Students Step Up to Increase Gen Z Vaccination Rates

Jordan Tralins, a rising junior at Cornell University, along with classmate Olivia Pawlowski, realized there wasn’t enough factual vaccine messaging for hesitant Gen Z students (those 24 and younger), so they founded the Covid Campus Coalition, which has since expanded beyond Cornell to over 25 university chapters, among them Ohio State, the University of Florida, San Diego State and Texas A & M.

The growing organization is looking to recruit a team of student ambassadors from a plethora of other universities to expand their program through the creation of new social media accounts targeted at college populations. They are currently active on Instagram and TikTok.

Here is what Ms. Tralins said students would be expected to do in their role as a college ambassador:

“Our student ambassadors are responsible for creating and running a Covid Campus Coalition Instagram account for their university. The Covid Campus Coalition provides each ambassador with custom infographics containing the most recent and relevant facts about Covid vaccines... Ambassadors also meet periodically on Zoom to discuss relevant controversies and brainstorm ways to best relay information to members of Gen Z. Additionally, some ambassadors go above and beyond by reposting graphics from other reliable organizations like the CDC and WHO on their account's Instagram stories. Ambassadors have the opportunity to connect with other student leaders from across the country to provide their campus with reliable Covid vaccine facts.”

As the Delta variant spreads in the coming weeks, it will be imperative that more college-aged students get vaccinated before returning to campuses this fall, even ones who have already had Covid-19. Studies have shown that vaccination provides a strong boost in protection in people who have recovered from Covid-19.

As the Covid Campus Coalition website says, “The sooner we get students passionate and excited about vaccination, the sooner our country will return to normalcy.”

If your college student is interested in becoming a campus ambassador, the Coalition is seeking student leaders who are passionate about public health, advocacy, communication and design. Apply here.
Marybeth Bock, MPH, is Mom to two young adult students and one delightful hound dog. She has logged time as a military spouse, childbirth educator, college instructor and freelance writer. Marybeth has a bachelor's degree in psychology from UCLA and a master's in public health from San Jose State University. She lives in Arizona and thoroughly enjoys research and writing. You can find her work on multiple parenting sites and in two books.

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